Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland sent a sharply worded letter to Netflix on Sunday objecting to a map shown in the new documentary series, “The Devil Next Door,” arguing that it suggests that Poland was responsible for Nazi-run concentration camps.
The true-crime series, released last week, focuses on the case of John Demjanjuk, a retired autoworker from the Cleveland area who was put on trial in the 1980s after he was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible,” a notoriously cruel guard at Nazi-run camps. A map shown in the first episode depicts modern-day Polish boundaries, labeled “Poland,” with geographical markers for death camps such as Sobibor and Treblinka, sites where Demjanjuk is said to have worked. In the third episode, another map locates several death camps within Poland’s boundaries.
In his letter, Mr. Morawiecki did not say which map troubled him, though both use similar markings. He criticized the filmmakers for not clarifying that Poland was under German control during the period. He asked Netflix to either modify the map or somehow inform the audience of the “terrible mistake.”
“Not only is the map incorrect, but it deceives viewers into believing that Poland was responsible for establishing and maintaining these camps, and for committing the crimes therein,” Mr. Morawiecki wrote in the letter, addressed to Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, and posted on the prime minister’s Facebook page.
The controversy touches on a deeply sensitive topic for Poland, which was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. Last year lawmakers made it illegal to accuse “the Polish nation” of complicity in the Holocaust, prompting claims that the nationalist government was trying to whitewash its history.
Mr. Morawiecki accused the documentary of “to an extent obfuscating historical facts and whitewashing actual perpetrators of these crimes.”
In a statement, a Netflix spokeswoman said the company was aware of concerns regarding the documentary and was “urgently looking into the matter.”
The five-episode documentary series delves into both sides of Demjanjuk’s case. Demjanjuk, who died in 2012 at the age of 91, said that he was a victim of mistaken identity and had been a Ukrainian prisoner of war in Germany and Poland who had made his way to America after World War II. In 1988, Demjanjuk was convicted in Israel of crimes against humanity and sentenced to be hanged. Later, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction, citing new evidence suggesting that a different man had probably been the real “Ivan the Terrible.”
But a German court found Demjanjuk guilty of taking part in the murder of 28,000 people while working as a guard at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Demjanjuk was appealing the verdict in Germany when he died.
The documentary series walks viewers through the case using footage from Demjanjuk’s nationally televised trial in Israel, where Treblinka survivors testified about the horrors of the camp and facial-recognition specialists presented their conclusions on whether the man pictured on a Nazi identification card was Demjanjuk.
In Mr. Morawiecki’s letter to the Netflix chief executive, he pointed out that about six million Polish citizens were killed during the Holocaust and that, according to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem, thousands of Polish gentiles risked their lives to save Jews, more than from any other European country. Although many Poles saved Jews at their own peril, others participated in pogroms that killed hundreds or betrayed their Jewish neighbors.
Mr. Morawiecki attached to his letter a map of Europe without the names of modern nations that showed a vast swath of Nazi-controlled territory in one color and Soviet-controlled territory in another, calling it an “accurate” map of the continent in late 1942.
The phrase “Polish death camps,” outlawed inside Poland under the new law, has been the source of several diplomatic incidents. In 2012, the Polish prime minister rebuked President Barack Obama for using the term and last year, the Polish Embassy in Washington complained to Fox News when the program “Fox & Friends” put the phrase on a chyron during a segment about the deportation of a 95-year-old former Nazi guard from the United States to Germany.
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